“Mistress America” continues to show off the talents of Greta Gerwig

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Somewhat under the radar, filmmaker Noah Baumbach and actress/writer Greta Gerwig have developed a really strong working relationship with each other. I think that the two of them have hit on something quite nice ever since Gerwig co-starred in Baumbach’s film Greenberg. They’ve since collaborated on Frances Ha, co-writing the script together, as well as doing the same for this weekend’s Mistress America, which obviously sees Baumbach also direct along with Gerwig also acting. I was really taken by this one, which is not only one of the funniest movies of the year so far, but also one that firmly establishes the dynamic between Baaumbach and Gerwig.

Much like with Frances Ha, Mistress America is a loose comedy about a free spirit in New York City. However, our true protagonist this time is a lower key college freshman named Tracy (Lola Kirke). New in town, she struggles to connect with anymore, until her mother suggests getting in touch with her soon to be step-sister Brooke (Gerwig). She does, and in short order her world is hilariously turned upside down. As mentioned above, Baumbach directs and co-writes with Gerwig, who is the main star aside from up and comer Kirke. Also on hand are Michael Chernus, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Matthew Shear, and more. Gerwig and Kirke rise above the rest though, as you might expect.

What really works here is the way that Baumbach lets his two main actresses just toms freely about the cinematic space. The actions of Gerwig and Kirke never feel overtly scripted, whether it’s the dialogue or the mid film set piece, which is a trip to a large house in suburbia. Gerwig obviously had a hand in this as well, due to her co-writing duties, but Baumbach’s direction channels that feeling. He often seems to want to homage low key French New Wave filmmakers, and here he’s able to aptly do just that. Without question, it’s one of his breezier works to date, and I mean that as a compliment.

I really wish that we saw more collaborations between filmmakers and actors where they shared the writing duties. It just makes sense to me. Much like how Edgar Wright would collaborate with Nick Frost and Simon Pegg, as just one example, you can see more personality emerge because of it. It also allows two different perspectives to come through, with the writer/director and the actor/writer putting their own spins on things. Mistress America, much like Frances Ha a few years ago, is simply another example of this working quite effectively. Hopefully, Baumbach and Gerwig have a long future of this ahead of them. They’re in a small club, but one I wish more would join.

Awards wise, this probably has pretty limited appeal, given how Frances Ha was snubbed. If Mistress America can break through to the Academy like Frances Ha couldn’t, it’s worth considering a Best Original Screenplay nomination for Baumbach and Gerwig. It’s also possible that Gerwig can compete in Best Actress or Best Supporting Actress, but anything else is a true long shot, at best. Anything can happen, but this is more likely to be an indie crowd pleaser than an actual Oscar player. I might be wrong, but it’s not something you should look at as a major contender, at least at the current moment.

Overall, if you’re in the market for an indie comedy with some pedigree to it, you can’t do much better than Mistress America. Easily one of the five funniest films of the year to date, it’s currently sitting just outside my current Top Ten for 2015 so far, which is high praise. If you like the work that Baumbach and Gerwig have done previously, then this week’s release should be a treat for you. Regardless of how it winds up doing with the Academy and with awards in general, this is just a supremely entertaining comedy with a bit of art to it. Don’t miss this one folks…

Be sure to check out Mistress America, in theaters tomorrow!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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